“I’m bored!” Ready to hear that timeless Winter Break war cry? With our kids about to embark on the marathon holiday break, millions of parents like me are bracing themselves. From the final bell to the first returning pledge of allegiance, our kids will be looking at approximately 310 hours of free time, 115 of which is sleeping (if we’re lucky), 95 eating, playing, friends, family, etc… and 100 rotating from the movie theatre to the TV to the laptop to the tablet and to the smartphone.
Unless you want your child’s brain to turn to mush over the next few weeks, it might be a good idea to have a plan for managing their media consumption. Here are some simple tips for turning mind-numbing time to quality time.
1. Set a timer
If you’re not planning to ban media all together, then the best plan is to create a schedule and stick to it. Divide their screen time into sessions, with a cap on each session. Pick an amount of time (ideally one hour) and the amount of sessions (your call). Limit screen time to those parameters. Plan to make the break time in between sessions as long as (if not longer than) the time spent engaging media.
2. Bundle All Screen Time Together, and Explain Why
Media doesn’t like to talk about radiation, hence the silence, but screen radiation damages the brain and eyes, especially during long stretches. It interferes with hormonal and vitamin balance, prunes the pathways of the frontal cortex, disrupts sleep patterns, and leads to a whole host of other unpleasant side effects.
This is another reason for setting a time cap on media sessions. Kids tend to stay plugged-in for hours on end, and there is a VERY real downside to not taking proper breaks. Explain all of this to your children in terms they can relate to. This way they will understand the motivation behind your No’s – even if they don’t like them.
3. Let the Child Decide What to Do Between Breaks
Empowerment is fundamental for effective parenting. Give them the freedom to choose. Try and guide them towards a variety of physically active choices. If kids gravitate to the same few activities they’re comfortable with, they’ll get bored fast. Challenge them to create variety in their play, but steer away from dictating specific activities. Legos, reading, playing outdoors – anything goes. But, if they’re constantly going back to the same alternative, insist they choose something else at the next break or the one after.
4. Find Better Media Options
There are many creative and cooperative apps & games choices today. Spend time finding media that even you enjoy. Chances are it’s going to be a healthier fit for your child. There’s no shortage of quality sites for finding ratings and reviews on the best media for children. Media that focuses on active engagement and positive role modeling can be beneficial to your kids, as well as entertaining. Most important: get involved and get to know the content from first-hand experience. The labels and Internet reviews are not always accurate (nor transparent).
5. No Media Before Bed Time
Sleep is crucial for healthy brain development. Research shows that screen time before bed inhibits melatonin discharge, which is what helps kids relax and calm down. Sleep time & quality are crucial for brain development. In other words, media before bed is bad for your child’s brain. Ideally, end all media consumption at least five hours before bed time, and minimize the adrenaline-pumping media. Save the exciting, suspenseful and spooky stuff for earlier in the day. The more calm and peaceful content should be the last things they watch or play.
6. Talk to Them Like Adults
Kids are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. Explain your considerations and where they come from. If you don’t have a rationale behind your decisions, do a little reading on the Internet and get yourself informed so that you can explain to your child the reasons why. “Because I said so” doesn’t cut it with a child that can access all the knowledge of the human race from their back pocket.
7. Discuss Reality vs. Fantasy
Talk with your kids openly and honestly about their media consumption. Ask them what they are watching and playing, and what they’re learning from these experiences. Better yet, watch and play alongside them, and then have that discussion. Help them distinguish between real-life behaviors and consequences from those they see on the screen. Talk about right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable words and actions. Make sure they’re clear on the distinction between real life and screen life. Too often, kids just blindly imitate their fictional heroes, with no adult buffering the process.
8. You are NOT Your Child’s Entertainment Squad
Being bored is important! There’s nothing wrong with letting your kids roam around the house ‘with nothing to do.’ In fact, it can be quite beneficial to their development. It forces them to use their imagination, creativity and find ways to entertain themselves. Boredom spurs innovation. Being passively entertained all the time inhibits the development of many important skills like resourcefulness, curiosity, and self-reliance.
Hope this helps, folks. Happy holidays!
With a deep background and industry knowledge in digital advertising, Dan Olschwang saw many forces at work, and took a special interest in that media geared towards children. As a parent, he wanted to tool that would help understand and assess the human values being conveyed to kids and what they are picking up from games, apps and media. Unsatisfied with what was available, Dan created Dawn, a tool to discover the potential hazards and benefits of the multi-media children are exposed to – the Dawn of a new digital age. As founder and CEO of Dawn, Dan uses his unique blend of expertise of digital and mobile media to build a tool that parents can use to better determine which apps, games and media are best for their child. Dan has cultivated and curated a team of experts in child development and digital innovation to create an app that is run by parents, for parents as they work together to determine the values of children’s multi-media programming.